Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Fifteen

We left off yesterday's post with Anne left on the street outside her father's rented quarters in Camden Place. Today, we learn of Anne's reception inside the building, which is unexpectedly pleasant - and about which Austen is rather expectedly snarky. Behold:

Mrs. Clay was very pleasant, and very smiling, but her courtesies and smiles were more a matter of course. Anne had always felt that she would pretend what was proper on her arrival, but the complaisance of the others was unlooked for. They were evidently in excellent spirits, and she was soon to listen to the causes. They had no inclination to listen to her. After laying out for some compliments of being deeply regretted in their old neighbourhood, which Anne could not pay, they had only a few faint enquiries to make, before the talk must be all their own. Uppercross excited no interest, Kellynch very little: it was all Bath.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth delight in their new situation, leaving Anne to wonder how a man like her father "should find so much to be vain of in the littlenesses of a town". Anne also hears a great deal of information about Mr. Elliot, who has now been completely pardoned and welcomed by her father and sister. Although they have bought into Mr. Elliot's explanations and excuses, Anne wonders about it. Since Mr. Elliot so clearly repudiated them years ago, and since it is assumed that he is now quite wealthy following his wife's death, he has nothing to gain from it; yet neither of the elder Elliots seem to have even thought of such a thing, let alone give it serious consideration. The only possible explanation Anne can come up with is that Mr. Elliot must have, in the past, actually liked Elizabeth enough to be seeking her out as a potential second wife.

This will not be answered any time soon, but lets remember, if we can, that Anne's powers of observation thus far have proven keen and accurate.

You'll note that apart from fishing for compliments about themselves, they really give Anne no opportunity to speak. When she attempts to tell Sir Walter and Elizabeth of having seen Mr. Elliot in Lyme, they pretty much blow her off, preferring to hear themselves speak. Sir Walter especially likes being seen in public with Mr. Elliot, whom he essentially describes as a fine piece of manflesh. In much more stately terms, of course. They speak also of a man named Colonel Wallis, whom Sir Walter asked to meet after Mr. Elliot basically manipulated him to do so. Colonel Wallis's wife is reputed to be a beauty, but since she's knocked up, she hasn't been getting out and about much. Still,

Sir Walter thought much of Mrs. Wallis; she was said to be an excessively pretty woman, beautiful. "He longed to see her. He hoped she might make some amends for the many very plain faces he was continually passing in the streets. The worst of Bath was the number of its plain women. He did not mean to say that there were no pretty women, but the number of the plain was out of all proportion. He had frequently observed, as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five-and-thirty frights; and once, as he had stood in a shop on Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without there being a tolerable face among them. It had been a frosty morning, to be sure, a sharp frost, which hardly one woman in a thousand could stand the test of. But still, there certainly were a dreadful multitude of ugly women in Bath; and as for the men! they were infinitely worse. Such scarecrows as the streets were full of! It was evident how little the women were used to the sight of anything tolerable, by the effect which a man of decent appearance produced. He had never walked anywhere arm-in-arm with Colonel Wallis (who was a fine military figure, though sandy-haired) without observing that every woman's eye was upon him; every woman's eye was sure to be upon Colonel Wallis." Modest Sir Walter! He was not allowed to escape, however. His daughter and Mrs. Clay united in hinting that Colonel Wallis's companion might have as good a figure as Colonel Wallis, and certainly was not sandy-haired.

Sycophants, unite. No wonder Elizabeth, Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay are so happy together, all living inside their vain delusions and sucking up to one another the livelong day. They talk Anne's ear off through dinner and into the evening, when what to their wondering ears should appear but a distinctive knock on the door, which Mrs. Clay identifies as Mr. Elliot's. Mr. Elliot turns out to be "quite as good-looking as he had appeared at Lyme, his countenance improved by speaking, and his manners were so exactly what they ought to be, so polished, so easy, so particularly agreeable, that she could compare them in excellence to only one person's manners. They were not the same, but they were, perhaps, equally good."

He knows when to speak, and when to change the subject. He actually talks with Anne and listens to her answers. Here, we see, is a gentlemanlike man indeed, and Anne ends up actually not minding her first night in Bath - not just because Mr. Eyecandy Elliot joined them, but because her father and sister were happy, and not whiny.

We pick up on Thursday with Chapter Sixteen, tomorrow being saved for the Bard.

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